State of Origin Player Profiles: Gallen, Farah & Woods
Nick Fray, Origin Online and Over the Line Sports
Paul Gallen, New South Wales
Front Row, Cronulla Sharks
Origin Appearances: 17
Origin Tries: 1
Origin Status: Tortured hero
Make no mistake – this is the biggest game of Paul Gallen’s life. Nobody better exemplifies the suffering of Blues players and fans than the courageous skipper, who made his Origin debut in 2006 – the same year Queensland’s Origin streak began. The Blues’ inability to re-claim the shield throughout his entire Origin career will no doubt have caused many sleepless nights for the lionhearted Shark, and his desperation to finally get that breakthrough win will be obvious from the opening whistle.
With club side Cronulla in the midst of a season from hell and the spectre of ASADA continuing to linger, Gallen’s whole season may hinge on the outcome of tonight’s game. After eight years of heartbreak and several near-misses, leading his beloved Blues to victory tonight would earn Gallen some degree of satisfaction from a year that has been further soured by ongoing injury issues, and with Gallen’s body betraying him more and more as the years roll on, this may be his last chance to get the monkey off his back.
Despite his ailing body, Gallen maintains a phenomenal work-rate in both attack and defence, and there is little doubt that along with Robbie Farah he will be at the heart of everything for the Blues tonight. For a man who has given so much to the game for so little reward, a relieving win for Gallen would be one of the year’s more heart-warming stories. While he is not exactly a beloved figure north of the border, even the most cynical of Queensland fans would be hard-pressed not to afford a brief smile for one of Origin’s most battle-scarred gladiators.
Robbie Farah, New South Wales
Hooker, Wests Tigers
Origin Appearances: 9
Origin Tries: 0
Origin Status: Perennial bridesmaid
It is quite incredible, given his importance to the Blues cause, that not so long ago Farah was branded as a player unsuitable for State of Origin. The knock on Farah was that his playing style was too unconventional and that he would struggle to get on the same page as his teammates. Yet, anyone who has watched Farah since his return to the fold last year will tell you that his inclusion has been the catalyst for this Blues side’s rapid improvement to the point that they are now on the verge of finally reclaiming the Origin shield.
For so long in the shadow of Maroons counterpart Cameron Smith, Farah has always refused to concede that Smith is the superior player and that belief has carried his game to such a standard that he may well have a point. Despite suffering a dislocated finger earlier in the year that cost him a month of football, Farah has statistically outperformed his more decorated rival and with his club side the Wests Tigers well-placed for a finals charge this could well be the year he supplants Smith as the game’s pre-eminent hooker.
With Gallen, Farah will shoulder the burden of leadership tonight, and like Gallen he will wear his heart on his sleeve for the full 80 minutes. If the Blues can get up and finally end Queensland’s streak, there’ll be few prouder Blues than the tough Tiger.
Aaron Woods, New South Wales
Front Row, Wests Tigers
Origin Appearances: 3
Origin Tries: 0
Origin Status: Cornerstone for the future
A common belief in rugby league is that front rowers take the longest to mature, not really reaching their peak until their mid-20s. It is therefore scary to think how good Woods might become in a few years as, at the age of just 23, he has already established himself among the top few props in the NRL. A powerful ball-runner with a healthy work-rate, Woods looks to be the Tigers’ successor to Steve Roach and that tag looks to apply at Origin level as well.
With three Origin games under his belt, Woods now has a feel for Origin football and his promotion to the starting side for Game One proved the Blues selectors have faith in him to set a platform for his side in the fiery opening exchanges. With crafty Tigers teammate Robbie Farah directing his runs in attack, Woods will be looking to get his opponents on the back foot and provide the same kind of territorial advantage his side enjoyed for much of Game One.